The land count in Limited decks has been up for debate ever since Kaladesh came out. Why would the 20-year-old theory of playing 17 lands suddenly change?
Because Aether Revolt, like Kaladesh, was designed with mechanics that don’t use lands. Crew, improvise, revolt, fabricate and, most importantly, energy. I’m no set designer, but I have a strong feeling that if energy did not exist, all these cards with activated abilities that require energy would have a mana requirement instead. If that were the case, you would definitely want at least 17 lands in all of your decks.
Since it is not the case, you’re forced to not play as many lands as usual to mitigate the risks of flooding.
Let’s start with the absolute extreme. I’m warning you—this is not typical. I’ve rarely seen a deck that should actually play as few as 13 lands.
Spoiler alert: I easily 3-0’d that Draft. The reason you want to run so few lands here is improvise. All the cards in this deck that cost more than 3 have improvise, and you have a ton of cheap artifacts. On average, this deck should have 2-3 artifacts in play by turn 3, effectively making your improvise cards cost 1, 2, or 3. The high-end is the Salivating Gremlins and Embraal Gear-Smasher. If you can’t find your 3rd land for those, you can start cracking Implement of Combustion or Renegade Map.
Let’s not waste too much time on such a corner-case scenario though—this kind of deck won’t come together very often.
There are two kinds of builds where I’d play 14 lands.
First: an aggressive deck with a low curve—something with a ton of 1- and 2-drops, a few 3-drops, and no more than one or two 4-drops. 1-mana cards like Precise Strike, Shock, Built to Last, Built to Smash, and Implement of Ferocity let you play two spells a turns without needing a 4th or 5th land. And absolutely 0 mana sinks in your deck.
The other would be a typical 3+ color green deck—a few Attune with Aether, Renegade Map, Druid of the Cowl, Prophetic Prism, Unbridled Growth, and Servant of the Conduit. Your mana base is usually made up of a ton of Forests, and then you’re splashing for premium cards. To play 14 lands, my baseline would be at least 2 Attune/Maps, then 3 Druid/Servant/Prism/Unbridled Growth.
You might be asking yourself, “why can’t I play 13 lands if I have 3–4 Attune with Aether or Renegade Maps? Well, there are risks in going too low—you can’t exactly count them as literal lands, because if you do, you’ll get diminishing returns. Imagine opening a hand with 2 of those but no lands. If you had at least one land, you’d keep. When you’re in spots where you need to topdeck lands and you draw those spells, they’ll effectively count as tapped lands and that can be a game-breaker.
This is the deck that Ari Hausman drafted in the Top 8 of Grand Prix San Jose. It’s a great example of what a typical red-white aggro deck should look like. There are some stinkers in here, but the point remains: with this curve and lack of mana sinks, you want to play 15 lands.
Renegade Map is close to a 16th land here, yet, it has applications between Countless Gears Renegade and Sweatworks Brawler. This deck could have one less Brawler, add a Built to Last, and a Shock, and it would play just fine with 15 lands and no Map.
Generally, if I feel like I’d run 16 lands in my deck, but I have a mix of two cheap cantrips such as Unbridled Growth, Implement of Combustion, and Implement of Improvement, I can go down to 15 lands. Aggressively slanted red-green or green-white midrange come to mind.
Implement of Ferocity is tricky, however. You should only count it as a cheap cantrip if you have a ton of 2-drops because you really don’t want to put a counter on your opponent’s creature if you’re digging for lands.
This is the most frequent number of lands you’ll find in Aether Revolt Limited decks. It’s your average Draft deck with a normal curve that goes up to 5 or 6 like you see in every Draft format.
It seems non-intuitive to play fewer than 17 lands when your deck has 5- and 6-drops, but flooding really is one of the primary ways to lose in this format. Look at this deck—it has absolutely zero ways to use lands besides casting spells.
My baseline has generally been, “no mana sinks—I’m playing 16 lands, no questions asked.” Some corner-cases would be when you have a deck with expensive cards that could provide card advantage and get you back into a game, such as Fumigate, Skysovereign, Noxious Gearhulk, and Ajani Unyielding. If a deck with a combination of these insane cards had trouble stalling the game because of a lack of curve, then I would make the sacrifice to go up to 17 lands.
If you’ve drafted a regular Limited deck ignoring the mechanics that Kaladesh and Aether Revolt offer, then go ahead and play 17 lands. Your deck will probably be great because the few mana sinks that are available are generally good.
Pacification Array, Durable Handicraft, Cogwork Assembler, Fabrication Module, and Walking Ballista. There you go—now you actively want to draw lands. If this deck didn’t have so many early drops, I would probably run 18 lands.
There are millions of scenarios you’ll run into, and unfortunately I couldn’t cover all of them, but I’m hoping the theory behind these builds will help you nail your mana base!